As you go through the athlete aging process, one thing seems for certain, pain levels rise. Whether acute or chronic, there will be a point in your life where you experience some level of pain. In your youth, a three-hour pickup basketball session is met with minimal soreness. In your adult years, this might leave you looking like the tin man the next day.
Two Types Of Pain
There are two main types of pain, acute and chronic. Think of acute is rapid in onset and chronic as something more gradual with time. With that in mind, acute pain is generally caused by a chronic act. Acute pain is, often, the final straw after days, months, and years of misuse. In its simplest form, pain is a signal. It is signaling you that something is overworked, out of balance, or lacking the necessary infrastructure to complete the task effectively. The tricky part is that the location of the pain is not always the area that needs attention. This is often true with cases of back and knee pain. Your hips, hamstrings, and thoracic spine all play a role in the load your low back experiences. While pain expresses in your low back, you will need to look elsewhere for the problem. The same goes for knee pain. Your ankles and your hips can have an impact on whether or not your knees scream out in pain.
Where to start
Solving a pain problem always starts with some form of assessment of movement review. Even if a client is pain-free, I still start each training journey with a performance assessment. During this assessment, I am looking for differences from the left to the right side of the body. While some differences are expected, the goal is to keep them within a range that does not result in pain and an imbalanced workload for too long.
The performance assessment I utilize starts with some simple range of motion tests without load or assistance. I want to see how well a client can move without forcing the movement. What is "natural?"
From there, the assessment builds into looking at how well the client can move under different speeds. Life does not happen at one speed. Sport does not happen at one speed. Sometimes an athlete can move well at slow speeds and have technique fall apart at a faster pace.
What this does is it helps build out an athlete profile so we can target movements to improve patterns, that if left unfixed, might cause pain in the future.
You can take my performance assessment for free, without any financial obligation by completing my performance questionnaire. From there, I will email you information on how to complete the assessment and send you a complete breakdown of the findings once you have completed the assessment. This will give you helpful information to make positive changes to your fitness training process.
The most impactful pain-management and prevention strategies are intertwined in all parts of a training session. For example, I start each training session with a "Training Prep" and "Phase Prep" segment. These segments have multiple purposes.
1) Work on postural corrections that aid in pain reduction and management.
2) Prepare for the demands of the upcoming work.
This is a great way to work on limitations and still progress to a training session that looks and feels beneficial to all. By working on these limitations in the warm-up phases, we can stimulate a positive movement change before any major loading. Then the loading segments of a training session can help hardwire the improved movement capabilities. Our bodies respond to resistance, so loaded exercise (ex. bands, dumbbells) can help expedite positive change in pain-management. Weight is often feared by athletes expressing pain but it can be a really helpful tool when use correctly.
The Training Session
This is where you might have to swallow your ego at the door or be willing to make a change. I find that many clients get shortsighted into one form of loaded movement being the best. Their bodies do not respond well to that type of loaded movement but they keep soldiering on regardless.
Coach Mike Boyle has a great way of comparing this to slamming your hand in a car door. If a loaded movement is causing you pain and you keep doing the movement without making changes, it is similar to slamming your hand in a car door repeatedly.
Just because your friend can back squat a house without pain does not necessarily mean that is the best route forward for you. I challenge you to adapt your thinking and realize that there are many ways to get stronger. Being willing to explore these different ways is critical to pain-management and reduction.
To start, your training session should pull nearly equally from different movement buckets. Knee dominant, hip dominant, vertical pull, horizontal pull, vertical push, horizontal push, power, anti-rotation, and anti-extension are movement groups I focus on programming exercises. This leads to a well-rounded program with plenty of room for progress to occur.
When it comes to these movement types, the key to pain management and pain reduction is to find an exercise variation in the pattern that works for you. The biggest pitfall I see with clients is trying to sub an exercise in from a different pattern category. This creates an imbalanced program. For example, if you like push-ups, great! They should not be a substitution for a squat.
For some, this requires a major shift in thought process. The question is, are you open to a change?
If you need some guidance on what exercise variations fit each movement bucket, check out my progressions & regressions sheet. This will give you an idea of what I strive for each athlete to achieve as a baseline in each pattern.
Train WIthin Your Means
The final step is to be realistic with your training. Headlines galore will tell you how your favorite Olympian trains and how you can too. Unless you are the same body type, same parents, have the same training history, and have the same training resources as said Olympian, you will not be able to train exactly as they do. While I think we know this deep down, it is also fun to try and be like our heroes. Here's how you can be like your favorite Olympian.
1) Have a plan and execute the plan to the best of your abilities.
2) Push yourself within your ability levels. Olympians often become Olympians by mastering the basics and being a master of the mundane.
3) Make the most of the time you have. Make every opportunity count.
For The Lifelong Athlete, I aim for athletes to operate around an 8-8.5 on an RPE scale when it comes to strength-building work. This allows for steady progress without the overreaching that can cause injury, setback, and frustration.
If you are constantly pushing to a 9/10 or 10/10, your wheels will eventually fall off. You have to be strategic with your push and know how to play the long game. The other area I see progress go to die is in the "gray area." This is where clients do not push hard enough when it is time to push and then push too hard when something is supposed to be easy or recovering in nature. This makes a major chunk of the training fall into a gray area. There are no peaks and valleys to stimulate growth. Most of the time is spent in an area that does not drive progress.
Do you sit in the gray area too often?
Executing a solid set of an exercise at an 8 or 8.5/10 is tough. It is tough to do it consistently over time. There are plenty of opportunities to improve technique and position. Good training is easy. Good training is hard to execute consistently.
Where do you need to improve?
As we pivot to a fresh start an a new year, it is an awesome time to rekindle you fitness training focus and set some goals for the new year. As part of The Lifelong Athlete, you can train anywhere in the world and access the coaching you need. Whether you have access to your bodyweight and some bands or an elite level fitness facility, I can help you achieve your goals.
Have you spent too much time in the gray area? Let's change your trajectory with fun and effective custom fitness training to reach your goals.
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Coach Bo's blog
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